Professional services staff threatened in ULSB

New business case for grades 1-5 professional services staff in business school

More restructuring. More uncertainty, more stress for employees. More questions about the University of Leicester’s ‘leadership team’

The ‘University Leadership Team’ seems determined to turn our institution upside down, to shake it all about. But it struggles to coherently and clearly, let alone convincingly, explain what it’s all about.

The latest group to feel the heat of Professor Boyle’s ‘institutional transformation’ are grade 1–5 professional services staff in the School of Business. (Such employees are typically members of our sister union Unite; in the School of Business, however, a few are in UCU.) The first ‘consultation’ for this new business case for restructuring, with risk of redundancies, was held on Friday 30 June. Normally such a meeting – between the University’s HR department and affected staff, along with their union representatives – is the beginning of a 90-day consultation period. However, since this meeting was called by HR managers without giving the proper five days’ notice, UCU is arguing the 90-day clock cannot yet start ticking.

The case seems a little complicated. Indeed reports from that improperly called first consultation suggest the HR personnel responsible for constructing and communicating the case (in this case the the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities’ Director of Operations) don’t fully understand the details themselves. What is clear is that this College’s operations director began the her presentation full of confidence, convinced the restructuring proposal would be well received, as ‘a veritable Eldorado of opportunity and career enhancement’, in the words of one colleague present. Confusion soon reigned, however.

What’s happening?

A combination of the occasional moment of clarity in our leaders’ proposal, some very smart questions and interventions from affected staff, and some further probing from the unions has unearthed the following.

  • All grade 4 posts will be extinguished.
  • New grade 5 posts – and a handful of grade 3 posts – will be created.
  • Just under 30 professional services staff at grade 5 and below have been invited to express interest in applying for these ‘new’ posts – and told they may be made redundant if they don’t.
  • A small number of employees, initially informed they were ‘at risk’, have now been ‘matched’ to new roles. In at least one of these cases, however, this new role may represent significant work intensification.
  • Restructuring for grades 6 and above is expected to follow.

Some questions?

  • Why does the ULT wish to abolish an entire grade of employee? Does this bring any benefit to the institution and, even if it does, does this benefit outweigh the costs of change? It appears the University’s ‘leaders’ have a utopian ‘model’ of what a higher education institution should look like (perhaps such a model is taught on the leadership-training courses they all attend), which they then seek to impose – without paying any attention to on-the-ground reality.
  • Why are senior managers at our institution seemingly unable to adequately explain their plans? In a fairly typical moment of confusion in this meeting, our colleagues were first of all told that if they felt they were already doing the work of the new higher-grade positions (and the overwhelming majority did) then they could make a case for being matched and not having to go through the whole application process. It was later clarified that it is formally impossible to be matched to a position of a higher grade. In other words, the opportunity first promised was not, in fact, available to almost anyone in the room. Of course, such flip-flopping and incoherence simply ramps up the anxiety-levels of those whose careers and livelihoods are being ‘restructured’.
  • Why are senior managers at our institution seemingly unable to competently – and legally – plan themselves? Their inability to give the legally-required 5-day notice period for this ‘first consultation’ is just one example. Beyond this, this restructuring is being initiated at what is perhaps the busiest point in the year for the affected staff – graduations, A-level results/admissions/clearing, semester-1 timetabling, new and existing student induction and/or registration all take place within this 3-month period – and, moreover, just two weeks before a new head of operations will take over in the School of Business.
  • Why are senior managers at our institution seemingly unable to listen to what employees tell them, and to our suggestions? A number of people in the meeting pointed out that many professional services staff in the School of Business had been asking, for a considerable amount of time, for their roles to be regraded and/or job descriptions to be updated. Maybe – just maybe – it might have made sense to launch a grading review first and then to consider organisational changes. In other words to base any ‘matching’ process on research into what staff actually do rather than what their job summaries suggest they ought to be doing.

On paper, few professional services staff in the business school should have much to worry about. There are, after all, more ‘new’ jobs being offered than there are employees whose current jobs are ‘at risk’. And it would certainly make sense for these so-called new positions to be filled by those who already have experience. The final question, then, is: will University of Leicester’s decision-makers act in accordance with what makes sense?

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